Nonfiction — print. Perennial, 2001. Originally published 2000. 420 pgs. Borrowed.
Subtitled “The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students”, Corwin’s book was meant to be a response to California voting to end affirmative action in college admissions. The students are all minorities from LA’s notorious South-Central neighborhood and members Crenshaw High School’s class of 1997 or 1998. Each student faces a myriad of problems — poverty, abandonment, abuse, illegal drugs, teen pregnancy, and gang violence — as they drag themselves to AP English class every morning.
Unlike other books about inner-city students, this book does not champion the efforts of wide-eyed, naive teachers who come into the inner-city and change the lives of their students. Not to disparage those teachers, but the two teachers profiled in this book are distracted by feuds with administrators and each other, which helps put the trials and triumphs of these students on a greater pedestal. One of the conflicts between the two teachers is over the curriculum; the twelfth-grade teacher wants the eleventh-grade teacher to stop teaching books by black authors and focus on the classics.
“We study some great, white authors, but children of color need to know there are great writers who look like them. They need to see our history is not just one of despair and slavery and entrapment and chains. They need to take pride in their culture. They need to gain inspiration in seeing a history of greatness in the African American writers. Some of these writers, like my students, came from impoverish backgrounds. They can be role models.” (pg. 85)
The book’s argument for affirmative action is often times pushed aside to introduce more students, explain their background, or follow a tangent about which literature by which authors should be taught. Eva of A Striped Armchair put up an interesting post on the concept of privilege just as I was halfway through this book. The information she provides also helped illuminate the points Corwin was trying to make in his book.
Does Corwin make a successful argument for affirmative action? It may not have been the strongest argument due to him following tangents left and right, but it certainly added to my knowledge of the argument for (and against) affirmative action.
I do have one minor point of contention that has stuck with me long after I finished the book. Corwin mistakenly refers to Clark University when he actually means Clark College in Atlanta. Normally not a major issue, but he’s talking about how Clark College failed to provide the student in question with enough scholarship money to leave the neighborhood and, therefore, doesn’t paint the college in the greatest light. I just feel like he should criticize the right university.